Email Compliance Guide: 5 Steps Small Businesses Can Take to Stay Secure

Email Compliance Guide


Email is a vital communication resource that many small businesses rely on to send sensitive, confidential information inside and outside the organization. The prevalence of email as a business tool and the necessity for an email compliance guide underscore its susceptibility to exploitation and data loss. In fact, according to a white paper from AppRiver, a cybersecurity company, email accounts for 35 percent of all data loss incidents among enterprises.

Email Compliance Guide

Here are five steps from AppRiver that small businesses can follow to simplify the task of developing email compliance standards to safeguard sensitive information.

1. Determine What Regulations Apply and What You Need to Do

Start by asking: What regulations apply to my company? What requirements exist to demonstrate email compliance? Do these overlap or conflict?

Once you understand what regulations apply, determine if you need different policies to cover them or just one comprehensive policy.

Example regulations that small businesses may encounter include:

  • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) – governs the transmission of personally identifiable patient health information;
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (S-OX) – requires that companies establish internal controls to accurately gather, process and report financial information;
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) – demands that companies implement policy and technologies to ensure the security and confidentiality of customer records when transmitted and in storage;
  • Payment Card Information Security Standards (PCI) – mandates the secure transmission of cardholder data.

Understanding the scope and implications of these regulations is critical for developing effective compliance strategies. Thoroughly assessing your company’s specific needs and potential risks will guide the creation of a tailored email compliance framework.

This foundational step ensures that your compliance efforts are both efficient and effective, minimizing the risk of regulatory violations and enhancing the overall security of your email communications.

2. Identify What Needs Protection and Set Protocols

Depending on the regulations your company is subject to, identify data that is deemed confidential—credit card numbers, electronic health records, or personally identifiable information—that is being sent via email.

Also, decide who should have access to send and receive such information. Then, set policies that you can enforce through the use of technology to encrypt, archive or even block transmission of email content based on users, user groups, keywords and other means of identifying transmitted data as sensitive.

Identifying the types of information most at risk and implementing strict access controls are fundamental steps in safeguarding sensitive data. By establishing clear protocols and leveraging advanced security technologies, businesses can significantly reduce the likelihood of unauthorized access or data breaches.

Effective policy enforcement protects confidential information and builds trust with clients and partners by demonstrating a commitment to data security and privacy.

Email Compliance Guide

3. Track Data Leaks and Losses

Once you understand what types of data users are sending via email, track to determine if loss is occurring and in what ways.

Are breaches taking place inside the business or within a particular group of users? Are file attachments being leaked? Set additional policies to address your core vulnerabilities.

Proactively monitoring for data leaks and quickly addressing any losses are crucial for maintaining the integrity of your email systems. Implementing robust tracking mechanisms allows for the early detection of potential breaches, enabling swift action to mitigate any damage.

Continuous analysis of data flow patterns can also reveal vulnerabilities within your systems, guiding further enhancements to your security posture.

4. Identify What You Need to Enforce Policy

Having the right solution to enforce your policy is just as important as the policy itself. Several solutions may be necessary to ensure email compliance to satisfy regulatory requirements.

Some solutions that organizations can implement include encryption, data leak prevention (DLP), archiving of emails and anti-virus protection.

Choosing the appropriate technology solutions to enforce your email compliance policy is essential for effective security management. It’s important to select tools that integrate seamlessly with your existing infrastructure, offering robust protection without impeding the flow of legitimate business communication.

A comprehensive approach to policy enforcement, combining multiple technologies, provides a strong defense against both external threats and internal vulnerabilities.

5. Educate Users and Employees

An effective email compliance policy will focus on user education and policy enforcement for acceptable use.

As unintentional human error remains the most common cause of data breaches, many regulations require the training of users on behaviors that could potentially lead to such violations.

Users and employees will be less likely to let their guard down and make mistakes when they understand proper workplace email usage and the consequences of non-compliance and are comfortable using appropriate technologies.

While no “one-size-fits-all” plan can help small businesses comply with every regulation, following these five steps can help your business develop an effective email compliance policy that safeguards security standards.

Empowering users with the knowledge and tools to recognize and avoid potential email threats is key to strengthening your organization’s security culture.

Regular training sessions, along with ongoing communication about policy updates and security best practices, ensure that employees are aware of the risks and understand their role in protecting sensitive information.

This approach to education and engagement is vital for minimizing the risk of data breaches and ensuring long-term compliance with email security regulations.

1. Determine What Regulations ApplyIdentify relevant regulations and compliance requirements such as HIPAA, S-OX, GLBA, and PCI DSS.
2. Identify What Needs Protecting and Set ProtocolsDetermine what sensitive data needs protection in emails and establish access and transmission policies.
3. Track Data Leaks and LossesMonitor email data to detect potential breaches or data losses, including internal and attachment leaks.
4. Identify What You Need to Enforce PolicyChoose appropriate solutions like encryption, DLP, archiving, and anti-virus to enforce email compliance.
5. Educate Users and EmployeesFocus on user education and policy enforcement to prevent unintentional errors that could lead to violations.

Email Compliance Guide

Maximizing the Impact of Email Marketing

Email marketing remains a potent tool for businesses, and understanding how to harness its potential is crucial. Here are some strategies to maximize the impact of your email marketing campaigns:

  • Segment Your Audience: Divide your email list into segments based on factors like demographics, purchase history, or engagement level. Tailor your messages to each segment for more personalized and effective communication.
  • Craft Compelling Subject Lines: Your subject line is the first impression you make. Create clear, concise, and engaging subject lines that entice recipients to open your emails.
  • Focus on Content: Deliver valuable content that resonates with your audience. Use storytelling, informative articles, or exclusive offers to engage and build trust.
  • Responsive Design: Ensure your emails are mobile-friendly, as a significant portion of recipients view emails on mobile devices. Responsive design improves the user experience.
  • Call-to-Action (CTA): Use clear and actionable CTAs that guide recipients on the desired next steps. Whether it’s making a purchase or signing up, a compelling CTA can drive conversions.
  • A/B Testing: Continuously test different elements of your emails, such as subject lines, content, or CTA buttons. A/B testing helps you refine your approach based on performance data.
  • Automation: Implement automation for tasks like welcome emails, follow-ups, and abandoned cart reminders. Automation saves time and ensures timely responses to customer actions.
  • Personalization: Incorporate personalization, such as recipient names or tailored product recommendations, to make emails feel more relevant and engaging.
  • Monitor Analytics: Regularly analyze email campaign metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. Use these insights to refine your future campaigns.
  • Compliance: Prioritize email compliance by adhering to data protection regulations, including GDPR or CCPA. Respect subscribers’ preferences and include clear unsubscribe options.
  • Integration: Integrate your email marketing platform with other tools like CRM systems or e-commerce platforms for seamless data management and campaign coordination.
Segment Your AudienceDivide your email list into segments based on demographics, purchase history, or engagement level.
Craft Compelling Subject LinesCreate clear, concise, and engaging subject lines that entice recipients to open your emails.
Focus on ContentDeliver valuable content such as storytelling, informative articles, or exclusive offers to engage and build trust.
Responsive DesignEnsure your emails are mobile-friendly with responsive design to improve the user experience.
Call-to-Action (CTA)Use clear and actionable CTAs to guide recipients on desired next steps, driving conversions.
A/B TestingContinuously test elements like subject lines, content, or CTA buttons to refine your approach based on performance data.
AutomationImplement automation for tasks like welcome emails, follow-ups, and abandoned cart reminders to save time and respond to customer actions.
PersonalizationIncorporate personalization with recipient names or tailored product recommendations for more relevant and engaging emails.
Monitor AnalyticsRegularly analyze email campaign metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates, using insights to refine future campaigns.
CompliancePrioritize email compliance by adhering to data protection regulations like GDPR or CCPA and respecting subscriber preferences.
IntegrationIntegrate your email marketing platform with other tools like CRM systems or e-commerce platforms for seamless data management and campaign coordination.

Email Compliance Guide

Best Practices for Email Marketing Success

Achieving success in email marketing requires a combination of strategies and best practices. Here are some key guidelines to enhance your email marketing efforts:

  • Build a Quality Email List: Focus on growing a list of engaged and interested subscribers. Avoid buying email lists, as they often result in low-quality leads and spam complaints.
  • Optimize for Mobile: With many recipients checking emails on mobile devices, ensure that your emails are responsive and display well on small screens.
  • Personalize Content: Use recipient data to personalize emails, addressing subscribers by name and tailoring content based on their preferences and behavior.
  • Segment Your Audience: Divide your email list into segments to send targeted, relevant content to specific groups of subscribers. Segmentation can boost engagement and conversions.
  • Test and Refine: Continuously test different elements of your emails, including subject lines, content, images, and CTAs. Analyze results and refine your approach based on what works best.
  • Prioritize Deliverability: Maintain a clean email list by removing inactive subscribers and adhering to email best practices to ensure your emails reach the inbox.
  • Frequency and Consistency: Find the right balance in email frequency. Consistency in sending emails helps build trust and expectations among subscribers.
  • Clear Call-to-Action (CTA): Make your CTAs stand out and guide recipients on the desired action. Use compelling language and design to encourage clicks.
  • Aim for Value: Offer valuable content, promotions, or exclusive offers to your subscribers. Demonstrating value can keep them engaged and loyal.
  • Compliance: Stay compliant with data protection regulations and provide clear unsubscribe options. Respect subscribers’ preferences and privacy.
  • Monitor and Analyze: Regularly monitor key email metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and unsubscribe rates. Use analytics to improve your campaigns.
  • Engage with Subscribers: Encourage two-way communication with your audience. Respond to inquiries, feedback, and comments promptly to build a connection.
  • Learn from Competitors: Analyze what successful competitors are doing in their email marketing campaigns. Identify trends and strategies that resonate with your audience.
  • Educate Yourself: Stay updated on email marketing trends, best practices, and emerging technologies by attending webinars, reading industry blogs, and investing in continuous learning.

Email Compliance Guide

Email Vulnerabilities: The Human Factor in Data Breaches

Data breaches do not always result from malicious activity, such as a hacking attempt. Most often, they occur due to simple employee negligence or oversight. (According to a Wells Fargo white paper, Employees are the leading cause of security-related incidents.)

In 2014, an employee at the insurance brokerage firm Willis North America accidentally emailed a spreadsheet containing confidential information to a group of employees enrolled in the company’s Healthy Rewards Program medical plan. As a result, Willis had to pay for two years of identity theft protection for the nearly 5,000 people affected by the breach.

In another instance, also from 2014, an employee of the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego erroneously sent an email containing the protected health information of more than 20,000 patients to job applicants. (The employee thought she was sending a training file to evaluate the applicants.)

The hospital sent notification letters to the affected individuals and worked with an outside security firm to ensure the data was deleted.

These and many other such incidents point to email’s vulnerabilities and underscore the need for businesses large and small to secure, control and track their messages and attachments wherever they send them.

Email Compliance Guide: The Takeaways

We hope you found this email compliance guide both enjoyable and useful. As you aim to secure your email communications, here are key points to keep in mind:

  • Email Marketing as a Strategic Tool: Startups and small businesses can greatly benefit from email marketing to connect with their audience, enhance engagement, and increase sales. Success depends on strategic planning, adherence to best practices, and commitment to email compliance standards.
  • Key Considerations for Success:
    • Define clear marketing goals.
    • Consider costs carefully.
    • Prioritize excellent customer service.
    • Leverage analytics for better decision-making.
    • Ensure rigorous email compliance to prevent breaches and security issues.
  • Components of a Successful Email Strategy:
    • Crafting compelling subject lines.
    • Choosing the right email marketing service.
    • Building and maintaining an engaged list.
    • Personalizing content to meet audience needs.
    • Segmenting your audience for targeted communications.
    • Committing to continuous improvement and staying up-to-date with industry trends and regulations.

By following these guidelines and focusing on the principles outlined in this email compliance guide, small businesses can unlock the full potential of email marketing. This not only drives growth but also fosters enduring relationships with their audience. In today’s digital landscape, where email remains a fundamental means of communication, mastering email marketing in an ethical and skillful manner opens up limitless opportunities for success.

Email Photo via Shutterstock

More in:

Paul Chaney Paul Chaney is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. He covers industry news, including interviews with executives and industry leaders about the products, services and trends affecting small businesses, drawing on his 20 years of marketing knowledge. Formerly, he was editor of Web Marketing Today and a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce.